Read the 2nd Prize Winner 2022 - Bobby-Darin Won't Be Giving Refunds by Elizabeth Pratt

 Bobby-Darin Won't Be Giving Refunds 
Elizabeth Pratt

We wake up early on Saturday morning, even though we don’t have to, because Bobby-Darin’s magic show is coming to town. Firstly, no, not that Bobby Darin – just another kid whose momma was into the singer way back in the ice age. Our Bobby-Darin wasn’t even born back then – he’s only twelve, same as me – and besides, his name has a stick that goes in the middle. Secondly, when we say he’s coming to town what we mean is he’s opening the garage door up and letting anyone who can pay a nickel see the show. There is nothing much going on in Laidlow, Alaska, so we are pretty much going to be his audience and truck along to go and stare in at him. Bobby-Darin says a good magician has to work with what he’s got, and what he’s got isn’t much.
    It’s a fine day, with bright Spring sunlight right in my face as I open the door to get us all out. There’s a troop of us today, and then some, because all the mothers on the street work both the Friday night shift and the Saturday mid-morning. The cannery won’t change shift for another four hours and I always look after everybody who gets dropped off. It’s nothing that goes on the books, you understand, just some kids coming over to watch cartoons and maybe take a sleeping bag in the front room if they get tired. And I’m the perfect person to run a kind of day-care, because I’m going to be a nurse when I get older so that’s okay. The mothers like the way things are, and at fifty cents a kid for the morning, when they just need a couple pieces of toast and peanut butter in them, so do I. 
    I get us ready; me, Beulah, Joe, Carrie, Englebert and The Baby. We have a kind of routine, now, so while you’re thinking I have a lot of kids to look after it goes fast. Carrie is only two years younger than me, and at ten she’s sensible enough to look after both Englebert, who’s still in diapers, and Joe (who can walk twenty-two steps without taking a tumble - we counted just yesterday). I still have to look out for Beulah, because she’s five and likes her tantrums, and The Baby. The Baby will be fifteen months later this week, so we’re having him a little party even though he doesn’t even eat cake, but scrunches it up in his fat hands and smears it all over himself and anyone within striking distance. A child who doesn’t like cake must certainly mean a po-faced adult, or so my own mother says. But enough about all that: the magic show awaited.
    Bobby-Darin is the star of the attraction and he wouldn’t brook any tardiness, but because it’s me I knew he wouldn’t mind.  We’ve been friends since he first got sent out here when we were both six, and I’m maybe even the best and only friend he’s got. I don’t count the kiddies, because they’re not old enough to choose their friends yet – except maybe Carrie as she is a clever girl with plenty of opinions about everybody.
    It was a very warm day already, for that time of year, but there was still the heavy, damp smell of rain in the air. The road was soft and crumbling from where the rain whooshes off the mountains and carries the gravel and tarmac off with it. There were holes like small ponds in the road. Our little town of Laidlow isn’t even five hundred souls, so you know what pothole fixing you get with that kind of budget. I gave The Baby to Carrie for a bit and folded up the pushchair so it didn’t get stuck. We carried our things across the road and paused a moment to look for patches of solid ground in between us and Bobby-Darin. Then we set about picking the path, like in a fairy book when the little girl has to find the secret trail to the castle or whatever.
    Bobby-Darin’s place isn’t any castle, but it is very nice. That’s because his grandparents own the hunting lodge and holiday chateau place up on Kreeger Mountain. It’s rude to talk money, so everybody tells me, but it’s truth that some have too much and most everybody else doesn’t have enough. Way of the world. Going over to that fine, big house would be a grand day even without the magic show, but we wouldn’t miss it for anything. We’re the only crowd in town.
    We were all trucking over there and then Joe, who has his finger stuffed up his nose to the second knuckle, says all of a sudden, ‘I PEE.’
    We all stop, and I look and we’re nowhere even close to the Show, so I say, ‘You’ll have to go here in the gutter. That’s what they put them in for.’
    And while Joe is trying to find an argument against me, I take The Baby from Carrie and settle him on my hip and I make a big deal about looking off towards the mountains like I don’t care what goes on around me. Carrie knows that’s the signal to get Joe to drop his shorts and go right there in the road. Nobody was around to be shocked; everyone works at the factory and is so tired when they get back that you could pee right in the middle of the living room for all they’d notice. Joe has done that a few times, too. Or at least it smells like it.
    While I was staring out at the mountains, I was thinking about how much money I could get to put in my Escape Box. I had fourteen dollars and sixty-five cents so far, and after three more days, I’d have the twenty dollars for the first part of a two-bus trip to Anchorage. My sister Denice lives at 22, Misty Ridge, Anchorage, and has done for three years, now. She threw a 42-ounce tin of packed-in-seawater Pilchards at my mother’s head and said everyone was crazy if they thought she was going to get a job in that goddamn pit that was the cannery in town. Then my sister dragged her bags outside and put them in the trunk of her boyfriend’s Chevette and they drove away. 
    We didn’t hear anything from her for at least a year, and I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t mind that so much because I was afraid she was going to come back and claim her childcare services and I’d be out of nearly a dollar a day, back then. Then Denice wrote - but only to me - and it was clear that she wasn’t coming back at all on account she had a waitress job at Shoney’s and was doing just fine, thank you. By then, Englebert had come along and Joe’s momma thought he was old enough for the Cartoon Club (as I called it), so I was up to two dollars a day and feeling wealthy.
    I carefully wrote a postcard from the Old Victory dime store, and I made it look like my own momma’s writing and I told Denice how happy we all were that she was doing so well - how we’d always known she was a girl with a good head on her shoulders and would make everything work out. I didn’t want her to know it was me writing for Momma, so I put, I hope you got rid of that Wayne boy, he was only after touching your chest. Love Momma. Then I thought maybe a grown person would say something different, so I made “chest” look more like “brest”, and that just had to do. I thought maybe it did the trick, because Denice still didn’t come back, though she did write directly to me again and say that if I ever needed to come out to Anchorage, I should, because she thought maybe Momma was hitting the drink.
    But so far, so good. I had the Cartoon Club money, and I had a place to aim for when I left.
    By the time we get it together and show up at Bobby-Darin’s, I can tell he’s not happy about waiting. He hasn’t got his Magician suit - a black top hat from his grandpa and a cape, of all things - on yet, so we know he’s still accepting tickets to the show. 
    ‘Good morning, madam,’ he says to me, and I grin at him. He looks different with his brown hair slicked down and his face all serious. He looks older than twelve, anyway, and I make a note to tell him that because I think he’d like to hear it.
    I smile at him and do a kind of bow. I don’t know why. I gesture to the group of us and say I need six tickets, thank you, and one of them should be a ‘special seat’ for Englebert. We’ve done this before, so Bobby-Darin knows that the special seat is an overturned packing crate with a car tarp on it in case Englebert has a leak. I told Bobby-Darin once that we’d pay extra for that, but he said, in his deep voice, “No, madam! Our performance caters to the young and old, alike. All shall witness the wonders of the kingdom of magic”. Well, I wasn’t going to argue with that, so I just said, “Thank you”, and set Englebert up on his throne.
    We get everybody settled and right there on the driveway facing the garage door (which is still mostly closed) and I see that Bobby-Darin has moved some things around and set up a few boxes and a folding table. I don’t want to look too eager, so I get busy settling the kids down and making sure everybody can open their complimentary paper twist of stale popcorn that the ‘ticket seller’ gave us.
    Then the music starts. I don’t know how he does it, but it sounds loud and exciting. Some kind of classical music with lots of drums and trumpets like they play when a king comes in a room. And I can’t help it, but I get goosebumps. I sit up straight and pat The Baby’s back to stop him fussing with the noise, and maybe I lean a bit to try and see under the garage doors. I don’t have to wait - the chain rattles and the whine of the door opener saws at the edge of the music. The door shudders open to reveal the inside of the garage, all done up with red and black draped material and Bobby-Darin even has a table at the front, covered with a black velvet cloth. It looks wonderful. And then Bobby-Darin steps out from behind an old wooden wardrobe and he’s dressed all in his cape and hat, and he waves his magic wand and bows.
    ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he says, sweeping an upturned palm to take us all in, ‘Boys and girls! Children of all ages!’
    ‘That’s me!’ Beulah squeaks, and we all shush her. When she’s not cross, she can also throw “happy tantrums” and there’s no coming back from the noise of them. She settles, though, and stuffs more popcorn in her mouth as Bobby-Darin goes on.
    ‘Prepare yourselves for a display of mysterical mastery, a stunning of senses. A feast of wonders for the eye and mind!’ The music fades out, and he lowers his voice. He’s timed it perfectly: ‘Prepare to be baffled - nay, stunned! - by the perfection of prestigious presentations!’
    The kids don’t go in much for all the talking, but he knows that and right then, he throws a smoke puff-bomb right on to the concrete floor and the kids whoop and gasp. I remembered that I was supposed to ask him where he got those bombs, because I could use one to shut them up when they fight over their spaghetti hoops. 
    He starts with making a few things disappear, and the coin tricks that Joe in particular likes. Then Bobby-Darin does another smoke-puff and, though we’re not meant to see it, ducks behind the wardrobe for the next bit. There’s no breeze, so the thin smoke hangs in the air for longer than usual, and Bobby-Darin rolls out a kind of cupboard on wheels that’s no bigger than him by a few inches. It’s all painted with bright yellow and red and black in squares and triangles and looks pretty mysterious, I admit. I had never seen this cupboard before and I didn’t know what was going to happen next, and I mostly liked feeling nervous about it.
    Then Bobby-Darin looks straight at me and says, ‘I will need a volunteer.’
    I do that thing where I look around, because I honestly don’t think he’s meaning me, but he smiles and points right at me. He usually picks one of the younger kids. I hand The Baby to Carrie and see she’s all wide-eyed and nervous. ‘It’s okay, honey,’ I say, ‘You’ll be fine without me.’
    When I get close to Bobby-Darin, he leans to me and says, ‘You’re looking lovely today, Wenda.’ I swear, I never noticed how nice his eyes were. I just smile at him and maybe blush a little, and he leans across me and opens the cupboard door. He gestures to it and says, for the crowd, ‘You will witness that the box is completely empty. Side to side! Top to bottom! Nothing in there to see.’
    And then he whispers, ‘Latch on the side, the back opens’, and I nod because I know he’s not really going to make me disappear.
    So, I get in the cupboard and Bobby-Darin closes the door and I hear the music start up again. His patter is muffled, but it’s something about ‘From the mountains of Peru to the Pyramids of Giza,’ and then I feel the box shift as he starts to turn it around, slowly. I find the latch easy enough and wait. He pauses in the middle of the second turn and taps the box, so I lift the latch and step out the back, careful to close the secret hatch behind me.
    It’s dark back there, but Bobby-Darin has left a trail of glow-sticks all lit up on the floor and he’s drawn a big black arrow on a bit of paper beside them. I follow the arrow and end up in the utility room.        Behind me, I hear him start up again, talking about the wonders of translocation and teleportation. I quietly shut the door that leads to the garage and then I see an envelope that he’s taped to the side of his grandma’s washer. In big letters, it says, Wenda.
    I open it with shaking hands. The letter is short:

I know you’ve been planning your escape for a while, so I thought we might help each other. This act will be the talk of the town! Please take this as payment for being a most excellent assistant and all-round good egg. And go. 
Go, go. 
Your loving friend and Master of Magics,
PS Have no fear! I shall endeavour to keep the kidlings entertained and will make sure they are safe & well until the end of afternoon shift. B-D.

To the bottom of the note, he’s paper-clipped three twenty-dollar bills and a cut-out from the bus schedule.

I don’t have any clothes with me or anything, so I hesitate. But it’s only a four-hour trip and my stuff is all hand-me-downs from Denice, anyway. And they have a really good nursing school in Anchorage, and the libraries are opened until ten o’clock every night.
    There’s no cannery for miles.
    Carefully, I fold up the note and put it in the left pocket of my cut-off jeans. The money and the schedule go in the right. I let myself out the back door of the house and start walking up the hill to the bus stop, never turning, never looking back. 
    I did take a moment to whisper a nice goodbye to my friend, Bobby-Darin:
    The Master of the Disappearing Act.

The End